The White Sox finally find a framer in Yasmani Grandal
We’re four months and one day from getting to see the Yasmani Grandal Difference™ in action for the White Sox, but I’ve discovered his presence provides one benefit Sox fans can cash in today:
Finally, we can (mostly) stop complaining about the non-tendering of Tyler Flowers.
If you didn’t know or didn’t care about framing, then you might’ve stopped thinking about Flowers shortly after the Sox let him go for no good reason and no return after the 2015 season, because he wasn’t much fun to watch on a game-to-game basis. But hell, even if you cared enough about framing to first-guess the non-tender as a terrible move, Flowers’ flaws were pronounced enough that the Sox should have been able to find some way to reduce the significance of his absence, given the number of options they cycled through. Instead, the Sox somehow legitimized the grousing for four full seasons.
Rick Hahn seemed hellbent on proving a theory he stated at least once in 2017 …
“It is a skill you can teach,” general manager Rick Hahn said. “It’s something a player can improve upon. I don’t think you necessarily have to be born that way, whereas other traits you might have to be born with it.”
“In my opinion it’s harder to find a good hitting catcher than it is to teach a guy to be a better framer.”
Both times Hahn cited the strides Flowers made with the same catching infrastructure, and he probably figured another guy would be able to raise his game within the White Sox’s system. That guy never materialized, and not for a lack of awareness. They hoped Castillo’s one-year gains in Baltimore would carry over with the Sox, but they didn’t. The Sox tried to mold Omar Narvaez into something more than one of the worst catchers in the league, but they couldn’t.
(The White Sox are not alone in that department. After the Mariners acquired Narvaez from the Sox, the Athletic’s Seattle writer went into detail about all the plans, data and drills the Mariners had to make Narvaez a passable backstop. It didn’t take. Narvaez was pretty much as bad in 2019 as he was in 2018.)
As a result, not only did the White Sox take a major hit in catcher defense after non-tendering Flowers after the 2015 season, but by Baseball Prospectus’ measure, they’ve been worse every year since. Here’s how the Sox have fared in terms of BP’s Framing Runs and Fielding Runs Above Average over the last five years:
If you don’t trust Baseball Prospectus’ metrics alone, or if you simply want a second source to verify, you can check out Statcast’s framing metrics, which assess how well catchers do in trying to shape the eight zones around the strike zone to their advantage. Grandal is very good, as opposed to any of the six regular catchers the Sox have deployed since dropping Flowers.
Average out all the qualifying White Sox catchers since they booted Flowers and extrapolate them to Grandal’s 2019 workload, and they’re cumulatively about as bad (12 runs below average) as Grandal was good. That should help, especially when comparing the maps for Grandal and McCann, which show that Grandal should be able to restore the low strike to White Sox pitchers who haven’t seen it in years.
In the five zones that are middle and higher, Grandal and McCann fought each other to the draw, or at least the scorers’ decision. In the bottom three zones, Grandal scores a first-round knockout. Classifying the zones as they’d register to right-handed hitters, Grandal has the superior strike percentage by double digits:
|Catcher||Low inside||Low middle||Low outside|
James Fegan already mentioned the Sox pitchers Grandal’s skills stand to help:
Lucas Giolito (0.9 runs) was the 12th-most negatively affected pitcher by framing, despite being a high four-seamer reliant pitcher who went and had a breakout year anyway, and McCann being a bit better than average at grabbing strikes just above the zone according to Statcast’ zone breakdowns. Given that he only covered 73 innings, it’s worrisome that Dylan Cease was in the top-50 of 827 major league pitchers for runs lost to framing, but also seems like a good match with McCann due to his high fastball predilections as well. […]
Cutter-dependent relievers Alex Colomé, Josh Osich and Jace Fry were heavily harmed, as were sinkerballers Nova, Aaron Bummer, Kelvin Herrera, Dylan Covey and Ross Detwiler. At large, the Sox were heavy on pitchers who needed to command the bottom of the zone to succeed, and could use all the help they could get doing so.
Granted, the addition of Grandal doesn’t guarantee that the White Sox’s framing issues are over. There’s a chance his skills could hit the wall as he advances into his 30’s like Jonathan Lucroy and Yadier Molina experienced. Still, unlike any of the last six regular catchers the Sox have used, Grandal has a documented history of above-average framing to lean on.
That’s good, because the Sox’s documented history shows they don’t possess the secret to helping catchers improve, and I didn’t care to see the Sox try to convince themselves one more time with Zack Collins. I’m guessing Flowers’ drastic jump in receiving was more nature than nurture, but Flowers is so maniacally obsessive about the craft that he makes it difficult to tell.
At any rate, if you’ve been sick of hearing about Flowers more than I’ve been sick of watching Sox catchers hemorrhage strikes, the days of whining/pining should finally be over. The Sox signed Grandal for $73 million because they can use his help in multiple facets, but regarding the subject of this post, the White Sox have finally acknowledged that they don’t have the answers for framing deficits in their actions, if not in words.
bUt HiS bATtiNg aVeRaGE
The Mariners are apparently shopping Narvaez.
And they might get a better return than two years of a well-compensated closer.
It definitely can be improved through coaching. Castro wasn’t a good framer until Mike Fast got finished with him. Neither was Castro’s understudy, Stassi, until he finished the program. There’s definitely also some amount of underlying tools needed for the skills to stick so teams do need to be able to evaluate that, too.
Not really any different than how unlikely it would be for Micah Johnson to replicate Marcus Semien’s improvements. We don’t have much reason to believe the Sox have solved for either part of the puzzle, though.
Kind of related, the Tigers are undertaking a comprehensive overhaul of player development to integrate performance R&D with coaching:
Comparing Flowers vs McCann is also interesting. A chunk of the tools might actually just be willingness to learn and do the work to get better, which syncs up with a theme from MVP Machine. That Ringer article with Flowers talks about how much effort Flowers put into studying other catchers and his own technique. McCann reportedly studies a lot, too, but he talked about that time and effort being spent on scouting other teams and preparing his gamecalling. He doesn’t really seem to talk about working on receiving and is on the record as skeptical of framing stats.
The Ringer article also went into the reduced league-wide gap in the skill and posited a bunch of explanations including that changes in pitch usage (more fastballs up, fewer breaking balls in the zone) are reducing the skill’s net value. The Sox managed to provide some data on that, too. in 1 of Fegan’s articles analyzing Grandal’s signing he covered how BP’s framing stats show Giolito and Cease both pitch up and grade out as easy pitchers to receive. Yet they still disproportionately lost callled strikes in spite of that so there’s only so much benefit to be gained from usage alone. Giolito was still really good despite his receiver but maybe could’ve been even better. Cease needed all the help he could get.
You know, Karko, sometimes I think you’d rather go to a game and see the R&D teams.
Sounds to me like he’d rather go to the game and see a team that, you know, wins.
I voted Eagle’s comment up, too, for all you touchy-feelies.
It’s a joke. Lighten up, Francis.
You’re a gentleman and a scholar.
Speaking of which, old friend Omar Narvaez is apparently on the trading block. It will be interesting to see what his trade value ends up being.
Also if Trader Jerry is open to trading players with 3 years of control left, Mitch Haniger would look pretty good roaming right field at GRF…
How naive. Sox fans will never stop complaining about Tyler Flowers.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t Jim say that we can pretty much move on from complaining about the Flowers departure – then spend half the article complaining about the Flowers departure?
show yourself, coward, i will never log off
Some Sox fans.
I have never complained about his exit. I just complained about the complaining.
I see dropping Flowers as indicative of the same front office weakness as trading away Tatis Jr and Semien or adding Shields, Castillo, and Alonzo. Rather than being a unique and special mistake, it’s just another mistake. The Grandal signing represents something fresh in two ways: the recognition that “good enough” isn’t good enough and the recognition that problems can be solved by spending real money.
The Sox have operated under the presumption that good athletes can be taught baseball skills and become superior players. Oddly, Semien may be one of the best examples of that approach having success and they traded him. We’ll see if they can succeed in “teaching” Collins to be adequate as a catcher.
Denman, USA today Dan Hayes has Collins Grandal linked.
No Christmas card required lol.
I knew that Collins had been training with Grandal since Collins was a teenager. We’ll if Yasmani’s presence helps Zack’s defensive play.
I’m confused. You’re counting Semien and Collins as falling under their former “athlete” fetish? These guys are kind of the complete opposite of that.
Eagle, I’d agree that Semien and Collins aren’t in the Jared Mitchell category; but, I think, they represent draft choices the Sox selected on the belief they could be taught the defensive skills that many scouts felt they lacked.
Eh I mean they probably hoped they could improve collins behind the plate, but I’m sure they thought he was much more polished with the bat, so they prob thought he was a big leaguer either way. The catching just would have been icing in the cake.
Semien wasnt even a high pick so I’m not sure he fits. Honestly there are very few draft picks where you’re not trying to fix/improve something. If they dont have a weakness they’re probably going like top 3.
My take is that the Sox seem committed to teaching Collins to catch just as they’ve committed to teaching Anderson to play short. Semien was a 6th round pick but even at AAA there were questions about whether he had the skills to stay at short. I’m not saying it’s a wrong practice; but, with the Sox it doesn’t seem to be just working on a prospects weaknesses. It’s taking a prospect at a skill position and believing coaching and experience will yield at least an adequate fielder. At the very least, it leads to shaky defense from young players.
Ok, I think I completely misunderstood your original point. You’re actually talking about guys who aren’t great athletes. I get what you’re saying about Collins, I think we’ve all beat that horse to death. Not sure what the complaint would be with Semien. As you said, he was a 6th round pick. Even in a world where Semien only became a half decent 2B (instead of a really good SS), that’s still a huge victory at that point in the draft. I don’t really see anything to complain about on that pick.
The hatred of the front office is clouding everyone’s memories of Flowers’ easy-out status. From 2014-2105 Flowers was ranked BEHIND James McCann and Alex Avila offensively. Not knocking Flowers’ defense, but the team ranked 14th in the AL offensively. He needed to go.
He had a 117 wRC+ his first 2 years in ATL.
Did the Sox let him go too soon, or is it another example of inept player development?
Either way, it’s on the FO.
The team ranked 14th in the AL but clearly catcher’s the position they should’ve prioritized for finding offense.
So in order to incrementally improve their offense at catcher (which didn’t even end up really happening), they completely tanked their defense at the position. What a great strategy.
Flowers 2014 wRC+: 96
Catcher average 2014 wRC+: 93
Flowers 2015 wRC+: 81
Catcher average 2015 wRC+: 85
The 2015 White Sox didn’t have a crappy offense because the catcher couldn’t hit. They had a crappy offense because the left fielder, right fielder, third baseman, and designated hitter couldn’t hit. You need offense from those positions. Flowers was the 3rd-most valuable position player on the 2015 White Sox, after Eaton and Abreu.
To me, it’s the combination of:
You know, never mind that they got a catcher who can expand the strike zone for pitchers and turn balls into strikes. I’m just happy they finally got one who shouldn’t turn pitches well inside the strike zone into balls on a regular basis.
A personal favorite of mine. I wish Yolmer nothing but the best.
With everyone on twitter working themselves into a frenzy over eyeball emojis, I wonder if this is significant. Also, at this point eyeball emojis are the equivalent of a dog seeing something out of the corner of its eye, going crazy with the barking, and every dog in a three block radius joining in the chorus because Clifford saw a napkin blowing around near the trash can.
I wonder if they told him to go see what the market is paying for what he has to sell.
I welcome the return to sound baseball decisions.
Good defender but if Madrigal was going to be up by June the money could be spent elsewhere.
Terrible decision in my opinion.
Nooooooo!!! Too bad. Good defender, great person. Who knows, maybe some other team can unlock some more production out of the bat. He’d be a 3-4 WAR player with a 100wRC/OPS+. I’d take the chance if I was a rebuilding team with not a lot of infield depth. I’d definitely claim him if I was the Tigers or Orioles.
Am I right that claiming means you go through arbitration whereas letting him pass through waivers then signing him gets him at whatever you sign him for?
Teams and Yolmer could reach an agreement and avoid arbitration. For me, that’s the most likely scenario. Hahn has offered Yolmer something already. Maybe a 2 years 6M contract, and Yolmer wants to test the free agency and find out how much value other teams put on him. I think he will be back.
“Hahn has offered Yolmer something already.”
No source. I am just speculating. … or hoping
I would be pretty surprised if he is back. If they wanted to keep him, even at a lower price, why risk another team claiming him on waivers?
Yeah, he is not non-tendered. He’d have the right to go to arbitration if another team claimed him. I’d still claim him if I am the Tigers. He can be flipped if he gets better at the plate, and he stops them from giving the likes of Gordon Beckham 80+ games.
This might be a stupid question, but what’s the benefit of doing this now? I mean I get not waiting to nontender him if they made another move and needed the 40 man spot, but they dont need it yet. Is this just a favor to yolmer to give him more time to find a job?
I think they are giving Yolmer the chance to be claimed AND tendered because Hahn has already decided not to tender, and communicated that to Yolmer.
If he becomes a free agent (no one tenders him), Hahn and Yolmer can work out a deal at a lower cost. Same thing that happened with Avisail Garcia with the Rays.
I think it is for the roster spot, which could be good! They could’ve negotiated with Yolmer if they really thought they could bring him back.
Sometimes a players does not want to hear what you are telling him. Or his agent has conflicting advice.
They could have waited until they needed the roster spot though.
And that could because of something else. We don’t really know at this time, with the information available
And then there’s what the Sox did by claiming Jacob Turner, non-tendering him, then giving him a guaranteed contract.
Flagged for reminding me of Jacob Turner.
Could it mean that they’re very close to another free agent signing and needed the roster spot?
I’d totally take Yolmer back if they can work something out, but I’d rather have Scooter Gennett on a bounce back contract
I’d rather have Whit Merrifield at roughly the same money as Yolmer is due in arbitration.
Now THIS is a hot take.